UISD board members discuss delinquent tax contract

Bizar Male

In a tumultuous special committee meeting last Wednesday, UISD board members discussed a new delinquent tax contract that would approve negotiations for a new law firm. However, some believed it to be a conflict of interest and unfair to other law firms from having the opportunity to represent the district.

With millions in delinquency taxes still needing to be collected, the board of trustees discussed how the current and former tax firms went about collecting and how much of the taxes were collected over the years. The meeting presentation showed that three different tax firms have been contracted by the district over the past 20 years.

Trustee Aliza Oliveros said that during the current contract with the Alarcon and Saenz tax firm, the collected percentage of the total delinquent tax roll saw a significant increase. She highlighted the firm for reducing the tax roll to $4.8 million, in 2018 and 2019.

In conjunction with her analysis, trustee Javier Montemayor also believed that the firm outperformed during the past two firms that it worked for the district. Oliveros, Montemayor and trustee Juan Ramirez voted against the move to deny a contract renewal.

The debate started when Oliveros asked the purpose of the agenda item and why the item was discussed.

Trustee Rick Rodriguez, one of the sponsors of the item, said that after his own calculations, he believed that some numbers were altered and misleading.

Oliveros said it was offensive to district employees to be accused of skewing numbers and believes that the move was a political stunt. Rodriguez denied that.

When asked about who collected the highest amount by Montemayor, assistant Superintendent for Business & Finance Laida Benavides said that the current firm has collected the highest amount of delinquent tax. She also said that the firm had filed 5,161 lawsuits over their eight-year contract at UISD, compared to the Ornelas, Castillo and Ornelas firm with 1,119.

Alberto Alarcon of Alarcon and Saenz said that the real measure of performance is looking at the delinquent tax roll over the year. He added that UISD has the highest collection for tax collection rate in the city — and possibly the state — with above 98%.

“The smaller delinquent tax collection roll you see, obviously the higher the firm tax collection was. And that benefits the district because the state wants the district to put every effort to collect taxes,” Alarcon said. “The more effort they put, the more we get rewarded with matching funds from the state.”

Trustee Francisco Castillo argued that the number of lawsuits is a gray area and is not always a good metric to analyze the success of a firm. Ultimately, he hopes to not remove money from households with lawsuits.

In spite of that, Alarcon said that the less effort in collecting, the more the firm financially benefits at the cost of the district.

The trustees eventually voted 4 to 3 in favor of not renewing the contract with Alarcon and Saenz and to negotiate a contract with the Mario Castillo Jr. Law Firm to become the new UISD tax firm. Trustees against the non-renewal were Oliveros, Montemayor and Juan Roberto Ramirez.

Oliveros rejected the Mario Castillo Jr. Law Firm due to the fact that no other law firm would have the opportunity to place their bid for the position. She believed that the trustees voting in favor were bypassing procedure and their vote in favor was politically charged.

Furthermore, she believes that those in favor, as well as the tax firm, would also receive additional personal benefits for entering a contract without meeting with other prospective qualified firms.

However, a sub motion by Montemayor was presented stating that the district would renew the current delinquent tax contract, but if that was not applicable, the board would request qualifications from the applying law firms.

“I am appalled with whoever does not vote for this,” Oliveros said. “Again, I remind your constituency that this is blatant personal gain on your part.”

Once again, Montemayor, Oliveros and Ramirez were beaten out by the rest of the board members.

Before the final vote, Oliveros asked UISD attorney Juan J. Cruz about the implications of a board member voting in favor for the new firm and their own familial connection to that firm, asking if it would be a conflict of interest.

Cruz said that in the case where a board member owned the Castillo Law Firm and received 10% of their income from the law firm, then that board member would have to step back from the vote. In the case that the firm’s owner is the board member’s child, Cruz confirmed that there was no conflict of interest.

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